There was a time, not so long ago, when boxing fans were entitled to wonder if a next generation of top-level fighters were ever to materialise. The class of the 90’s hung on, clung on and drove back any upstarts hoping to push them down the stairs and claim the house as their own.
Television networks stuck with the veterans, providing platform to those who reflected back the ageing demographic still pursuant of their boxing fix. Boxing, in a tale almost as old as the sport itself, is struggling for survival. Nefarious sanctioning bodies slowly dissembling its inherent hierarchy from within while the interloper from below stairs, the UFC, grew its appeal with the younger audience.
Boxing stuck with what it knew. Hopkins. Mosley. Oscar. Roy.
Maybe, almost a decade too late, the new class is here. I hope a rejuvenated Kelly Pavlik is among them.
Pavlik, the Youngstown hero, captured the imagination of the American public in 2007-08 with his straightforward and aggressive style. He enjoyed two tumultuous knockout victories over Edison Miranda and most notably Jermain Taylor – the man who had twice squeaked past Bernard Hopkins – and a deserved rematch victory over Taylor too.
Hopkins of course was the doyen of the old brigade, one broadly comprising Roy Jones, Oscar DeLaHoya, Marco Antonio Barrera and the like, as the safety first Pay Per View options at HBO. Thomas Hauser, a better and more qualified pen than I, has cast plenty of spotlight on the ramifications of HBO’s strategy of recycling ageing fighters and growing too close to Golden Boy Promotions, but in Pavlik it appeared the network had struck gold.
A good old-fashioned, but newly minted knockout artist.
Sadly, the middleweight talent pool was shallow, and in a tactical bid to embolden his own credentials as the leading fighter of a new era, he jumped up to Light-Heavyweight and tackled the 44-year-old former champion. Hopkins. It proved to be a step too soon, or a step too far.
Hopkins was masterful. He laid traps which Pavlik strode into in the only way he knew, forwards and repeatedly. It was akin to a chess grandmaster and a youthful prodigy, the strength and will were there but the refinement and skill were lacking.
As is the modern idiom, Pavlik was written off. Suddenly, his remorselessly aggressive style was reevaluated as predictable and one paced. His perceived ability to move through the weights from Middleweight to dominate and defeat Hopkins and his contemporaries Calzaghe, Jones and Dawson at 168 and 175 pounds, and even beyond, were put on ice.
It struck me as a little reactionary to trash Pavlik so readily, his limitations had always been evident but Hopkins was simply the wrong fighter, at the wrong time at the wrong weight. Like so many facets of boxing it illuminates yet more of the hypocrisy its most devoted fans are guilty of. Yearning for the days of old when the best fought the best, marveling at the courage of Jake LaMotta and his five attempts to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson or the wonders of the Four Kings. Few devalue either Sugar Ray or Jake for any singular defeat.
So why write off a young fighter for a solitary defeat to a wily old champion?
Pavlik isn’t in LaMotta’s mould, nor does his career have the same brevity. But wouldn’t it be better to applaud his willingness to tackle the trickiest assignments available to him? Since regrouping from the reverse, Pavlik has won his sole comeback fight against Marco Antonio Rubio and is now set, following injury and illness, to face Miguel Espino on December 19th.
The cancelled fight with Paul Williams was blow to that renewal but boxing should embrace this willing warrior. Of course, there will be those who muse over his motives for pulling out on Williams, given the date was just two weeks prior to this new fixture. Actions are always more valuable than words.
But I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. I just have a good feeling about the lad.
Naive? Perhaps, maybe the double-dealing inherent in boxing is my Bernard Hopkins.